“They’re all dealing with something. They have nowhere to go back to” an old man sighs watching a cohort of similarly aged men doing callisthenics in a local park knowing that they’re about to lose this place too. A Moosic Lab production, Melting Sounds (ほとぼりメルトサウンズ, Hotobori Melt Sounds) is about what you keep and what you have to let go as the heroes try to preserve a disappearing soundscape while unable to resist the march of progress as even their little backwater finds itself at the mercy of modernising developers.
Hoping for a solo getaway, Koto (xiangyu) arrives at the rural home of her late grandmother only to discover a strange man, Take (Keiichi Suzuki), camping in the garden. As she will repeatedly, rather than enlist the authorities Koto invites Take into the house where it’s warmer and discovers that he’s in the middle of an important project recording ambient noise from around the village attempting to capture the banal sounds of everyday life such as someone going to the dentist or a young couple having a pointless argument in the street. Meanwhile, the pair receive a visit from a young man, Yamada (Amon Hirai), bearing a tablet featuring the face of a woman, Hiroko (Umeno Uno), trying to explain to them that the house needs to be knocked down so they should hurry up and move out. Unfazed, Koto once again asks Yamada to come and sit under the kotatsu where it’s warm, the young man later taking a break from his job to stay with them under the pretext of convincing them to leave while they’re later joined by Hiroko who also becomes increasingly conflicted and decides to join their small family.
Just as Take had said they’re all dealing with something, Koto having become estranged from her father whom she no longer talks to, Take as we discover recording the sounds on old-fashioned speaker walkmans for his late sister who was killed in a landslide, and Hiroko and Yamada each conflicted in their work for a greedy amoral developer who reveals that he too was responsible for evicting mostly elderly people from their homes in a town that has since become famous for bubble tea. The four of them are already displaced by the modern society, as are the men doing callisthenics in the park as they watch their town gradually dismantled around them, pushed out even from disappearing and depopulated rural Japan by an encroaching modernity. The developer claims he wants to rejuvenate the town to attract young people to return but is indifferent to what is being lost such as the recording of the nostalgic five o’clock chimes which so moves Hiroko, adding only that they no longer have them where they are only for Hiroko to suggest that you can only hear them if you’re pure of heart.
Take claims he’s making a “grave of sounds” but he’s also capturing a moment in time and with it the essence of life. As he puts it everything has a sound from a flower blooming to air conditioners and church bells, each of them a part of something bigger immersed in the now. As he points out, everything comes to an end eventually, be it love or friendship or even family. The recordings are a kind of proof of life, but paradoxically also its passing the final implication being that all things have their season and it’s best to enjoy them while there’s time. Small-town Japan may be disappearing or at least changing even if the promised bubble tea might not be quite what you’d expect but that doesn’t necessarily mean it all has to go.
Thanks to Koto’s warmheartedness, inviting each of them into the house despite having arrived for a “solo” getaway, the trio of youngsters find a new solution to their sense of lonely disconnection discovering a kindred spirit in their shared desire for something simpler and more wholesome as they play boardgames together by candlelight, making curry and gyoza sure to record the sound of them sizzling. A warm and quirky ode to the various ways life can be improved by the simple act of stopping to listen, Kahori Higashi’s laidback debut may be about learning to let things go but also appreciating what you have while you have it and taking what you can with you while being kind and openhearted even in the face of those attempting to run you out of town.
Melting Sounds screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022
Original trailer (no subtitles)